Friday, February 1, 2008

Joel Toledo


I love how things attach themselves
to other things—the rocks sitting stubbornly
beneath a river, the beards of moss.
I choose a color and it connotes sadness.
But how long must the symbols remain true? Blue
is blue, not lonely. After a time, one gives up
reading the sky for shadows, even rain.
There is no promise, only a possibility.
A moment moves to another, and still it feels
the same. Like old letters in boxes.
Or how the rain, at times, falls invisibly.
Finally, the things we love demand more love,
as if we have always been capable of it. Yet
I can only offer belief, mirages that mean water,
long travels leading somewhere. I am reading
old letters, trying to make something
of what’s been said. It might be raining;
some pages are unreadable.

* previously published in the Philippine Sunday Inquirer

The Same Old Figurative

Yes, the world is strange, riddled with difficult sciences
and random magic. But there are compensations, things we do
perceive: the high cries and erratic spirals of sparrows,
the sky gray and now giving in to the regular rain.
Still we insist on meaning, that common consolation
that, now and then, makes for beauty. Or disaster.
Listen: the new figures are simply those of birds,
the whole notes of their now flightless bodies snagged
on the many scales of the city. And it’s just thunder,
the usual humming of wires. It is only in its breaking
that the rain gives itself away. So come now and assemble
with the weather, notice the water gathering on your cupped
and extended hands—familiar and wet and meaningless.
You are merely being cleansed. Bare instead
the scarred heart; notice how its wild, human music
makes so much sense. Come, the divining
can wait.
Let us examine the wreckage.

*previously published in the UK Bridport Prize Anthology 2006

Save As Draft

Or write as poem. The whole point is often
what we miss out on. To revise is to reconsider
the experience of, say, a leaf—never mind
that it is not green anymore. Or, pardon the sudden
evening. The transition was nice enough;
the explosive colors of dusk. And, didn’t you feel
so much sadness? I cannot explain it any better
than how I could when the outlines were still there:
trees and some wonderful new shapes.
Since then, things have changed. A pale hand
moves in the darkness. And someone is calling out,
come to bed, come to bed. And it is just you.
The evening insists on evening. It is that simple.
It is late enough as it is.


Where they are exactly, no one knows.
It is enough that they lie somewhere,
slicing the darkness with their sharp sounds.
Far off, in the cities, people are making do
with light and music and wakefulness.
Here, it is not so different. Only here,
the fireflies are satisfied with their nature,
their flickering envy of stars.
The same is true of the bullfrog,
announcing its presence by the pond,
and of the waiting owl, wide-eyed
and dark-winged and silent in the tree.
But the crickets, weak and ready
for the taking, are the boldest,
frantic with their nonlinear music
as if they want to be found, as if
each singular blade of grass contains a single note,
contributes to the grand monotone of the evening.
Troubled and sleepless, I step out to look for them,
flashlight in hand. But outside there is only
the unblemished night, alive with its occasions of light,
harsh sounds, and the unseen crickets, nearby
and far away, mocking the frog, the owl, me.
As if their chorus is both for death and deliverance,
or simply because the night would be too silent
without their sacrifice. Eventually, they would
be discovered. Maybe not tonight, and maybe not
by me. This is the nature of things.
The constant search for sources,
forgiveness. Then again, there is the question
of God, our natural need to be heard, saved,
as these crickets – noisy but perhaps
full of prayer, perhaps already redeemed.


To be sedated, handled with fingers,
the fear conquered and the animal harmless
like the ordinary orchids in the greenhouse,
its body just another thing to be tampered with.
I think of the young zoologist, his first time
in the field, lab work and books behind him,
hands roughened by too many chemicals.
How his body shudders now, this moment
with the animal of his wildest dreams.
It could be a lion, rhino, some poisonous snake.
It really doesn’t matter. He is caught
in this moment of pure closeness. He holds its paws,
hoofs, wings, the pointed and useless fangs,
rough but firm like his grandmother’s hands,
as during that first trip to the zoo one summer,
a long time ago, before he forgot how
the sun exposes everything, alights gently
on the living or the dead, and how everything ends up
being touched, even the fierce ones, even this animal—
for now familiar, for now almost like family.

1 comment:

Robyn said...

Truly some of the most meaningful and profoundly simple words I have had the pleasure to ingest in quite a long span of space. Moments linked in imagery and wrapped lyrical grace. Divinely delicious.